Markram uses vulnerabilities as a strength as he heads to World Cup
Listen to him, however, and there is vulnerability. He has spoken in the past about how “scary” it was when his name was first mentioned as a candidate for the Proteas.
Now, on the eve of the South African team’s departure for the World Cup in England, he acknowledged that if he was chairman of selectors, he would not have picked him for the tournament, given his poor One-Day International record. He acknowledged that if he hadn’t made the squad, only he would be to blame.
Asked if he deserved a spot ahead of Hashim Amla to partner Quinton de Kock at the top of the order at the World Cup, again he said no. “You’d be silly not to go with (Amla).”
Some might misunderstand Markram’s self-critique as a sign that he’s soft. He’s most certainly not - just ask the Australians who tried to sledge him out at Kingsmead last year. But it is different to hear a sportsman – especially a male one from South Africa – express himself in this manner, highlighting his own shortcomings.
So even as one of his most celebrated achievements as a cricketer – captaining the SA under-19 team to an age-group world title in 2014 – has been used to partly justify his selection for the World Cup, Markram understands that the stakes are so much higher in 2019.
“There are a few things we can tap into from the under-19s which is nice to fall back on. But with respect, that was an age group tournament, it’s slightly different,” Markram commented.
“A lot has to do with your approach as a player. At under-19 level it’s pretty ‘happy go lucky,’ you don’t think about your game in the same way you do as a 25-year-old. The magnitude of the tournament is bigger, the crowds are bigger, the pressure from outside is bigger and there is a lot more media.”
“That being said, we’ve dealt with small portions of all those factors at the under-19 tournament so we have, to an extent, dealt with them before and we can tap into that, refresh our minds and hopefully it can help us.”
Markram hasn’t made the same kind of impact in the One-Day International arena as he has in the Test format. A simple comparison between batting averages bears that out - 43.80 in Tests, 29.58 in ODIs. Yet because of the dominant way he’s played domestically, he saw off the challenge of Reeza Hendricks to gain the selectors' backing.
So besides the obvious difference in standard, why has he struggled at international level in the 50-over format? “It’s a mental thing. I found myself not going through the gears at international cricket. I was feeling in, going hard and then getting out, whereas in domestic cricket I was, if required, able to gear down a bit and go for a longer period of time.
“At international level when I got in, I got out because I got to sixth gear quickly and that wasn’t nice because then I was throwing away starts. But I’ve learned that and will try and take it from domestic cricket to international cricket to.”
It certainly didn’t help Markram’s development as an ODI cricketer that he was made captain in only his third game following an injury to Faf du Plessis. With AB de Villiers also absent for a lot of that series last year against India, Markram had to do without the support of some senior players.
“I actually enjoyed leading the team, but I forgot to play that series as a batsman,” he said. “I was thinking of being captain 24-7 because of the pressures and responsibilities you deal with, and I forgot completely to put my batsman’s cap on. I learnt, I bumped my head if it were to happen in the future, I’ve been made aware that I need to understand there are two different sides, captain and you need to be a batter as well. That India series was challenging but I managed to get something out of it.”
And so to the World Cup, where Markram has made it clear he’s happy to be a ‘water carrier’ if needs be. “I personally feel every guy, one to 15, will play a massive role in us bringing home the trophy. I’m aware that we are all going there with loads of responsibility whether you’re a ‘starter’ or not. There is loads to do to keep pushing each other.”@shockerhess